Blog: Staff Reflections
June 20, 2016
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
This piece originally appeared in The Conversation on June 16, 2016
New technology could lead humans to relinquish control over decisions to use lethal force. As artificial intelligence advances, the possibility that machines could independently select and fire on targets is fast approaching. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction toward reality.
These weapons, which could operate on land, in the air or at sea, threaten to revolutionize armed conflict and law enforcement in alarming ways. Proponents say these killer robots are necessary because modern combat moves so quickly, and because having robots do the fighting would keep soldiers and police officers out of harm’s way. But the threats to humanity would outweigh any military or law enforcement benefits.
Removing humans from the targeting decision would create a dangerous world. Machines would make life-and-death determinations outside of human control. The risk of disproportionate harm or erroneous targeting of civilians would increase. No person could be held responsible. Continue Reading…
May 27, 2016
Dear Class of 2016,
First of all: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT!
Secondly, we want to send a special congratulations to Katie King, whose tireless work with our partners in South Africa on the right to education earned her the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Chike Achebe, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Lauren Blodgett, Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Mira Chernick, Carson Cook, Rebecca Donaldson, Michelle Ha, Anna E. Joseph, Brian Closterboer, Liz Loftus, Lindsay Mullett, Courtney D. Paterson, Brittany Reid, Ariel Simms, Peter Stavros, Matt Thiman, Jillian Wagman, Noorulain Zafar, and Ye H. Zhang.
Lastly, if we missed you at yesterday’s commencement party, here’s what we would have told you: Thank you. Continue Reading…
May 25, 2016
Today at Class Day, we had the great honor of watching our colleague Gabriela Gonzalez Follett rise before the Class of 2016 and accept the Suzanne Richardson Staff Appreciation Award. It was a beautiful sight to see, second only to the sound of her voice as she gave a speech that moved many in the audience to tears.
The Suzanne Richardson Staff Award is given each year to a member of the staff who demonstrates commitment to the student experience and concern for students’ lives and work at the Law School. The Class of 2016 selected Gabriela (Gabbie) as the recipient of this year’s award for her work “around the clock to make sure that students are having an optimally enriching educational experience at HLS.” Continue Reading…
May 12, 2016
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
Today, we in the International Human Rights Clinic are excited to announce that Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, has been promoted to clinical instructor at Harvard Law School.
I first met Anna when she was an LLM student in my disarmament seminar and a member of my cluster munition clinical team. I knew right away she was someone special. She stood out from her peers, impressing me with both her intellect and her character. Four and a half years later, she continues to impress me on a daily basis.
Since Anna returned to the Clinic as a fellow in 2014, she has demonstrated a gift for teaching and a commitment to promoting human rights and international humanitarian law. She has trained clinical students in the skills of our field, earning their respect and inspiring them to perform at the highest levels. She has published multiple reports in the areas of disarmament, privacy, and refugees, all of which have had real advocacy impact. Outside of the Clinic, she has mentored members of HLS Advocates and collaborated with some of our visiting fellows.
Anna has also been a great friend and colleague to me and the rest of the Clinic.
I could go on and on about all that Anna has brought to our community, but suffice it to say, the Human Rights Program is thrilled that she will be around for the coming years.
February 17, 2016
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Last week in South Africa, there was an important—and surprising—development related to the 1983 torture and murder of Nokuthula Simelane. I previously wrote about the case as an egregious example of the lack of accountability for apartheid-era crimes, as well as the apparent political obstruction that effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of nearly 300 post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) cases.
But perhaps the tide is turning. On February 8th, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it will charge four former apartheid security policemen with Simelane’s kidnapping and murder. This represents the first prosecution of apartheid-era perpetrators since a 2007 plea agreement with five senior police officers, among them Adriaan Vlock, who served as Minister of Law and Order.
Former TRC Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the breakthrough as a “most significant and historic decision,” but also questioned why the NPA delayed for decades and proceeded only after Simelane’s family launched a High Court case to compel the NPA into action. The NPA has said that it is moving ahead now because of the strength of the evidence and merits of the case, which create reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.
The four former members of the Soweto Special Branch—Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Barnard Mong, and Msebenzi Radebe—are due to appear in court on February 26th. Although three of the accused applied to and received amnesty from the TRC for Simelane’s abduction, none applied for her murder. Because of this failure to make a full disclosure, the case was referred to the NPA and now appears set to proceed.
January 26, 2016
Posted by Mindy Roseman
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
After ten years as Academic Director at the Human Rights Program, and many years before that as a collaborator at the Harvard School of Public Health, I write to let you know that I am leaving HRP, effective February 5, 2016. I will be joining Yale Law School as Director of both its International Programs and its Gruber Program on Global Justice and Women’s Rights. This was not an easy decision, especially since it means I will be warming the bench from the other side of the basketball court.
There are many communities at Harvard Law School that are dear to me, but I cherish HRP – its work, staff, faculty, students, alumni – perhaps above all. I’ll still be on campus this semester (teaching a seminar), and my email will be active through June.
I hope to stay in touch and wish you all the best of luck.
December 18, 2015
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
This post, “Unrivaled Cruelty: The Horror of Incendiary Weapons and the Need for Stronger Law,” was originally published in Jurist
Incendiary weapons inflict almost unrivaled cruelty on their victims. Photos taken after an incendiary weapon attack on a Syrian school show the charred bodies of children, who must have experienced unimaginable agony. The weapons cause excruciatingly painful burns, and treatment for survivors requires sloughing off dead skin, which has been likened to being flayed alive. While individuals often react to accounts of such suffering with horror, government efforts to minimize the harm from these weapons by strengthening international law have been unacceptably slow.
Many countries have expressed outrage at the use of incendiary weapons over the past five years, including at meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the treaty that regulates the weapons. The voices of these countries are crucial and they should continue to raise the issue. But it is time to move from condemnation to concrete action. A major disarmament conference scheduled for next year presents an excellent opportunity for progress.
Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. They can be designed to burn people or materiel, serve as smokescreens or provide illumination. People who survive attacks with incendiary weapons not only experience physical injuries, but also frequently endure psychological trauma, permanent disfigurement and difficulties reintegrating into society.
Over the past two years Human Rights Watch has documented new use of incendiary weapons in Syria and Ukraine, and it is investigating allegations of use in Libya and Yemen in 2015. A report recently released by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic provides evidence of these attacks, along with a five-year review of developments on the issue and recommendations for next steps.
Existing international law has failed to prevent the harm caused by incendiary weapons. Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, adopted in 1980, restricts use of incendiary weapons in “concentrations of civilians.” As of December 2015, 112 countries had joined the protocol.
But two key shortcomings have limited its effectiveness. First, it defines “incendiary weapon” as being “primarily designed to set fires to objects or to cause burn injury to persons.” As a result some countries maintain that it excludes munitions with incendiary effects, such as those containing white phosphorus. Although primarily designed to function as smokescreens these weapons inflict suffering comparable to other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus burns through flesh to the bone and can reignite when bandages are removed and the substance is exposed to oxygen.
The protocol also makes an arbitrary distinction between air-dropped and ground-launched incendiary weapons, creating exceptions for certain uses of ground-launched weapons. The delivery system is irrelevant to the victims, however, and ground-launched models have become increasingly common and accessible even to non-state armed groups.
The solution to these problems is legally, if not politically, quite simple. Protocol III should be amended to define the weapons based on their effects rather than their design. And it should at a minimum prohibit the use of all incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians, regardless of their delivery system. An absolute ban would have the greatest humanitarian benefit.
Over the past five years about three dozen countries, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN secretary-general and independent groups, have spoken out about this issue at meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons and other UN bodies, and in letters to Human Rights Watch. Most have highlighted the humanitarian impact of incendiary weapons in general or condemned recent use. Many have urged treaty members to strengthen Protocol III or said they are willing to discuss the adequacy of the protocol.
At the most recent meeting of the states parties, held at the UN in Geneva in November, momentum continued to grow. About 15 countries publicly addressed the incendiary weapons issue, more than in previous years, and others privately expressed support for reviewing Protocol III. A majority of these countries called for closing the protocol’s loopholes while others said they wanted to revisit existing rules. Six countries commented on incendiary weapons for the first time in this forum, demonstrating the increasing recognition of the problem and need to take action. The meeting’s final report included a reference to concerns about incendiary weapons for the fifth consecutive year. Such developments are encouraging.
But amending international law is a slow process and there will be hurdles to success. At the November meeting Russia said the proposal to pursue formal discussions on incendiary weapons would be “counterproductive.” Given that the treaty’s rules require decisions to be made by consensus, Russia alone could block further progress. Russia’s statement on the issue was its first in a meeting of this treaty, however, meaning that at least it takes the calls for change seriously.
The treaty’s Fifth Review Conference—a meeting held every five years—is scheduled for next December and will be an important opportunity for countries to take action. There treaty members will reflect on developments since the last review conference in 2011 and make plans for the next five years. Review conferences have historically been pivotal in the evolution of the treaty and its protocols.
In the coming months countries should ensure that incendiary weapons are placed on the agenda for the review conference. At the conference itself they should continue to express their concerns and agree to a new mandate that sets aside time to discuss the implementation and adequacy of Protocol III. The goal should be to negotiate the amendments needed to strengthen the protocol.
When Protocol III was adopted in 1980, some countries criticized its regulations of incendiary weapons as inadequate. They contended that there had been strong support for a ban but that compromise had watered down the final product. Several held out hope that the protocol’s failings would one day be addressed and recommended that the instrument be improved at a future review conference.
Thirty-five years later that has yet to happen, but it is not too late. The horrendous suffering incendiary weapons have caused civilians in recent years and the growing international opposition mean that the time has come to act. Countries should seize the opportunity presented by the 2016 review conference and take tangible steps to increase the protection of civilians from incendiary weapons.
December 9, 2015
Posted by Gabriela Gonzalez Follett
When I first started working at Harvard Law School, I had 13 stops. That’s how long it took to get from Ashmont Station, near my childhood home in Dorchester, to Harvard Square, where I had just accepted a job as a program assistant. Thirteen stops I had to convince myself that I belonged at the law school and that I had a place among the elite. Even today, a year later, I stop outside Wasserstein every morning, take a couple of deep breaths, and prepare to leave a part of myself on Massachusetts Avenue.
It’s my job as a staff member to serve the HLS community. I serve students their food, I process affidavit letters for alums, and I book professors’ rooms for meetings. But just because I serve does not make me a servant. Many people at HLS understand this. But in an institution that has a strong caste system, with very few people of color at the top, it is inevitable that some individuals treat staff as the “other.”
I’ve been described as an affirmative action hire before—that comes with the territory of being Latina in America. But I never thought I’d hear this comment at an elite institution like Harvard Law School, let alone on my second week of work. I never thought I’d hear a student tell me I speak well, coming from Dorchester with a Latina background. This rhetoric of racism is not unique. The narratives I hear from staff of color at the law school about these kinds of micro aggressions are paralyzing, and need to be addressed.
As little support as the students of color get at this school, staff of color get even less. The law school has an opportunity to embrace the movement and empower its community. Establish an office of diversity and inclusion, as well as other institutional changes aimed at curtailing organizational hierarchy and injustice against students, staff and faculty. Make a sustained commitment to the recruitment, retention, promotion, and professional development of staff of color at all levels, particularly in senior management. Implement measures to ensure staff of color are respected and supported in their work, including required cultural competency training for all.
The privilege I have as an administrator in the Human Rights Program allows me to speak out and not fear reprisal. I can organize and attend meetings because my community not only supports and encourages this work, but trusts that I will get my work done. Other staff do not have that kind of freedom.
It has been an honor to take a place in this growing movement at HLS. Relationships are building in all corners of the school. Staff of color are meeting for “family dinner,” a place to find fellowship and work towards empowering each other. Staff and students are coming together, energized, collaborative, and committed to creating a better climate. Allies across the law school offer support and valuable skills in times where it can feel overwhelming for people of color.
I invite you—staff, students, administrators, senior management, Dean Minow–to join us.
To follow the movement, check out #ReclaimHarvardLaw and #RoyallMust Fall, a campaign specifically targeted at getting the law school’s crest removed. The crest is taken from the seal of the Royall family, known as particularly brutal slavers.
Below, images from an effort led by Gabriela, Anna Crowe and Katherine Talbot to show staff solidarity with people of color at the law school.
November 20, 2015
Posted by Staff and Faculty of the Human Rights Program
Last night, the Harvard University community came together in solidarity for the national #studentblackout demonstration. This morning, we woke up to find black tape slashed across the portraits of black professors. We are devastated- for our colleagues, for our students, for our community, and for a world that in so many ways does not acknowledge that #blacklivesmatter.
Our doors are open for anyone in our community who wants to talk about this, and about how we can partner together for change- today and every day.
Below, a portrait of Prof. Randall Kennedy surrounded by notes of love and support from the HLS community. As Harvard police began its investigation into the vandalism this morning as a hate crime, these notes appeared around the portraits of every black professor at HLS.
Below, images from the student protest the night before (taken by Gabbie Follett, HRP program assistant).
November 10, 2015
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Twenty years ago today, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other members of the Ogoni Nine were hanged in Port Haurcourt, Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa was a writer, environmental activist, and outspoken critic of Shell’s destruction of Ogoniland. He accused Shell of waging an ecological war against the Ogoni, co-founding the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to protect their rights and protest the devastating effects of Shell’s oil exploitation on their land.
In response, Nigeria’s military junta falsely accused him of murder and then created a special tribunal — which violated international due process standards — to prosecute and sentence him to death. In 2009, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a case in which it was accused of collaborating with the Nigerian government in Saro-Wiwa’s execution.
On this anniversary, it would be nice to document how much has changed in the Niger Delta over the last two decades — how pollution from oil extraction has been reduced, how Shell has cleaned up past spills, how the Ogoni no longer suffer from poisoned waterways, fishing areas, and surface soil. Unfortunately that article can’t be written, because the devastation continues.
Although Shell was forced out of Ogoniland in 1993, it remains responsible for leakages, gas flaring, and oil blow-outs from approximately 5,000 kilometers of its pipelines that still run through the area. Hundreds of spills occur annually across this old and poorly maintained pipeline network, ruining drinking wells, agricultural fields, forests, and fisheries that the Ogoni depend on for their food and their livelihood. Shell acknowledges spills leading to more than 55 million liters of oil leaked in the Delta in recent years — and these numbers likely understate the true scale of the damage. (By comparison, on average there were 10 spills annually across the whole of Europe from 1971 to 2011; the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska accounted for approximately 41 million liters lost.)
The most comprehensive study on the impact of oil pollution in Niger Delta, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011, documented appalling levels of ongoing contamination. The UNEP also found that Shell had failed to properly clean up spills at more than 60 locations across Ogoniland. In response, Shell assured its critics that, since 2011, it has addressed the pollution identified in the UNEP report.
But a recent study by Amnesty International (AI) and the Centre for the Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) flatly contradicts Shell’s claims. In locations where Shell asserts it has cleaned up and remediated past spills — and where Nigerian government regulators have certified sites as clean — AI and CEHRD found water-logged areas with an oily sheen, land that was black and oil-encrusted, and soil that was soaked and visibly contaminated with crude. They conclude that Shell has not improved its methodology for addressing oil spills and still fails to adequately clean up its pollution.
To truly commemorate Saro-Wiwa, the struggle for social and environmental justice and a clean Niger Delta must continue. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent pledge to fast-track implementation of the UNEP’s recommendations is commendable but insufficient. Shell must improve its approach to oil spill remediation, properly clean up the Delta, and compensate communities for past harms. And the Nigerian government must create an effective oversight, regulation, and accountability process for the oil industry, one that addresses the underlying causes of pollution in the Delta, including the maintenance of oil infrastructure and a re-examination of the spill investigation process.
Shell’s unapologetic attitude and unchanged behavior are an insult to human rights and all that Ken Saro-Wiwa represents. The Nigerian state and Shell might have hoped that killing Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues would end the struggle. We owe it to him to prove them wrong.
Susan and a team of clinical students participated in litigating Wiwa v. Shell, which charged Shell with complicity in the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other non-violent Nigerian activists, and successfully settled in 2009.